An Open Letter to L&D Leaders: Reflections on the 2021 Trends Report

Presenting the results of our 2021 Blanchard HR / L&D Trends Report in a recent webinar was a surprisingly moving experience for me.

More than 1,000 L&D professionals participated in this year’s survey, which included questions about your response to COVID in 2020, the challenges you experienced converting face-to-face designs in a disrupted business environment, and your plans for developing people in 2021. One section of the survey included an open-ended question about the greatest challenge your L&D team faces going into the New Year.

Your responses and comments painted such a vivid picture of the past year. Reading them was like stepping into your lives—and it made me proud to be your colleague.

The Hero’s Journey

It’s clear that so many of you took the hero’s journey, overcoming challenge after challenge in 2020.

One finding from our survey shows how much terrain you covered: 85% of you converted face-to-face training to virtual and digital offerings in 2020. That is astounding. Classroom training—the most common delivery method for training—abruptly stopped. But developing your people couldn’t be put on hold.

So you pivoted at a stunning speed.

You worked valiantly to turn your F2F offerings into digital learning modalities. And most of you did it with limited experience, with inadequate resources, and under the most difficult of circumstances.

I say this with absolute appreciation because your comments and struggles reminded me of what our team had to do to convert our F2F offerings. Their efforts were nothing short of heroic and their output level was unprecedented. Sound familiar?

The hero’s journey ends with personal transformation. Perhaps you discovered something admirable about yourself and your colleagues. Our team discovered they can accomplish a year’s worth of work in two to three months when they know people they care about are relying on them.

Perfecting Accomplishments

Product developers consider three fundamental trade-offs when creating project plans: scope, budget, and timeline. All three are interdependent; each variable affects the others. For example, increasing the scope requires a larger budget and/or changing the timeline.

Normally, a team can adjust these variables to fit the project. The pandemic, however, did away with this freedom for L&D teams. Budgets were slashed so we couldn’t just shovel money at the problem. Timelines were unyielding because everything was in crisis. Scope, as a consequence, had to be reduced. Functionality, interactivity, and engagement were just a few of the casualties.

Not surprisingly, 51% of respondents in the 2021 Trends Survey felt their new digital/virtual offerings were less effective than F2F solutions. This is nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, you may have unknowingly applied a best practice of agile development by releasing minimum viable products to your users.

Now—what to do going forward?

When setting priorities for 2021, you’ll likely want to address some of the shortcomings in the solutions your team created. Recognizing the need to revise these offerings to boost learner engagement and quality is an important step. Instead of rushing off to build new products, consider enhancing the ones you developed when resources were scarce.

A Caring Group

The L&D field tends to attract people who are concerned about the welfare and development of others. I was reminded of this again and again as I read your comments in the survey responses. The common theme was helping others—and this greatly overshadowed your personal struggles.

Here are some empathetic words your peers shared when asked about the main problem they faced during COVID:

  • “Keep people engaged in times of fear”
  • “Employees feeling isolated and disconnected”
  • “Overworked and overwhelmed employees”

What you wrote is even more striking when you consider that Learning & Development was often considered a nonessential function during COVID downsizing. Countless organizations slashed their L&D budgets in 2020, leaving many L&D people feeling marginalized, overworked, and underappreciated.

But you remained true to your calling. You felt compassion for the people you develop. And you expressed concern about their emotional health. What a caring and dedicated group!

Your Turn

Now you can take the same journey I did: listen to the webinar, read the report, and come to your own conclusions.

I’m confident that you’ll be as proud and inspired as I am!

About the Author

Jay Campbell is SVP of Products & Content at The Ken Blanchard Companies, overseeing research and development activities. Holding degrees from Vanderbilt University and Boston College, Jay is currently pursuing a doctorate in leadership and organizational change at USC.

About The Ken Blanchard Companies

For more than 40 years, The Ken Blanchard Companies has been a global leader in management training, consulting, and coaching. Its solutions inspire leaders at all levels to create cultures of connection, unleashing talent to deliver extraordinary results. Its flagship leadership training program, SLII®, is the solution of choice for more than 10,000 organizations. Blanchard also offers a suite of other award-winning leadership solutions and coaching services to support them.

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